While many people may fail to recognize and understand mental illness, for others, these health issues are a daily reality. In an effort to encourage awareness and assistance, mental health organizations and healthcare professionals unite each May to promote National Mental Health Awareness Month.
In the United States, one in five adults and children ages 13 to 18 experience mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2015 suicide was the second leading cause of death in youth ages 15 to 24. Of those who died by suicide, 90 percent had an underlying mental illness.
“Sixty million people in the United States face the day-to-day reality of living with a mental illness,” said Mary Giliberti, CEO of the National Alliance of Mental Illness. “Mental Health Month is a time for us all to come together, to inspire people, raise awareness and become involved so we can build better lives for millions of people with mental illness.”
Mental Health Month began in 1949 through the work of Mental Health America, a leading community-based, non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the needs of the mentally afflicted.
Every year, Mental Health America focuses on a different theme for Mental Health Month. This year, the theme is “Risky Business,” an effort to educate people on the habits and behaviors of mental illness, as well as those that increase the risk of developing mental illnesses. These include marijuana use, dangerous sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction and excessive spending according to the MHA website.
“Living with mental illnesses is not easy. Some days I feel like I can do anything, but when my depression overcomes me I feel worthless and l do not want to get out of bed,” Santa Ana College student Veronikah DeLaCruz said. DeLaCruz was diagnosed with depression and general anxiety disorder at the age of 15.
“When it’s my anxiety, I am in a state of panic. I cannot breathe. It is scary sometimes. I have had to go to the hospital because I could not get my anxiety under control,” she said.
To cope with the obstacles set by her mental illness, DeLaCruz relies on her strong support system, and encourages others suffering from mental illness to seek help and find the support they need.
At SAC, the Psychological Services office at the Health and Wellness Center in VL-211 offers therapy and counseling to those who feel they are struggling with mental issues. For the entire month of May, the center is hosting Wellness Wednesdays — a series of free drop-in workshops each week from noon to 1 p.m. in VL-108. The wellness workshops cover topics such as stress management, self-care and communication.
“I think [Mental Health Awareness Month] is important, because there is still a big stigma around mental health,” said Harpreet Malla, a psychology intern at the Health and Wellness Center and organizer of Wellness Wednesdays.
“It can be easy for people to recognize something is not right physically. Mentally or emotionally, it is a lot harder for people to admit that something is going on and to get the help that they need,” Malla said. She encourages people to inform themselves about mental illness and understand how to support others who are suffering.
“A big piece of the stigma is vulnerability. There is this belief that you have to be strong and you have to push through it, rather than admitting you might need a little help. Communication is key,” Malla said.